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Courting Medical Tourism: Match Made in Virgin Islands

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Local government officials are encouraged that by courting medical tourism initiatives, a higher standard of healthcare can be conjoined with a tourism sector poised to attract moneyed millennial travelers and create a match made in the Virgin Islands.

Government and travel officials are courting medical tourism collaborators to create a match made in the Virgin Islands.

Petrona Davies
, minister of health and social development permanent secretary, said the first step toward establishing the British Virgin Islands as a major destination for medical tourism is to identify main stakeholders within the medical and tourism sectors.

The economic objective of having more travelers come to the Virgin Islands for medical care and, of course, our own objective of strengthening our range and quality of services offered to the local populations I think is a perfect marriage, Davies said before many of the potential collaborators the United Kingdom territory hopes to cultivate including representative of the Medical Tourism Association, Ministry of Health, BVI Health Services Authority, Premier's Office, customs and immigration, professional health councils and private sector entities on hand for the British Virgin Islands Business Outlook Conference, this week at Scrub Island Resort.

Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association, believes BVI is positioned to follow the lead of nearby Caribbean nations and unleash its potential for medical tourism by expanding upon existing medical expertise, affordable costs for care, and a secure environment for both private healthcare companies and the patients they seek to attract.

Boost to Economy

Medical tourism has a really positive impact on local citizens, he said. When patients travel for medical care, they usually come for two-to-three weeks with spouses or loved ones. They contribute a tremendous amount of money to the local economy. In fact, many studies have found that medical tourism patients spend more toward the local economy than regular tourists do.

Davies said the local population would benefit not only from the economic boost derived from increased tourism, but from elevated specialty medical services that residents of BVI previously had to depart the territory for and travel abroad.

Once a patient enters one of our facilities, we want them to have the same level of care and concern expressed for their comfort, for their outcomes, whether they are a local patient or international patient, she said. Medical tourism provides us the opportunity to strengthen the sector for the benefit of all our clients.

The new Peebles Hospital, scheduled to open in March 2014, is a confirmation that Davies believes will position BVI to attract top doctors and services to the territory. She said, however, that any expansion of medical tourism services and issues of infrastructure including air access, cruise facilities and hotel and resort capacity do not have to compromise access to procedures and treatments afforded to BVI patients.

Find, Attract ‘Generation Y’

Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association, said the British Virgin Islands would be well-served to target foreign millennial populations those born between 1982-2002 who are destined to accumulate more spending power than any other age group and grow to become the core customers of airlines, hotels and travel companies in the decade ahead.

Healthcare costs continue to weigh heavy on the minds of millennial residents of the United States. A Harvard University Institute of Politics poll suggests that 57 percent of Generation Y population disapproves of the current state of President Obama's ambitious, yet contentious healthcare reform initiatives. In fact, less than a third say they are likely to enroll in the Obamacare federal and state insurance exchanges implemented at the start of the year.

Healthy uninsured Americans, who are largely uninsured because they can't afford health insurance in the first place, may not want to purchase these policies because of high out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays, said Stephano, who presented at the conference.

Some will choose to do what they have been doing live without insurance and go to an emergency room if they need medical care. The law says they have to be treated — whether they have insurance or not. For many elective procedures that don't require immediate attention, medical tourism offers a viable alternative for affordable care.

Stephano said millennials are likely to turn to the internet to investigate medical tourism approaches and hospitals, facilitators and travel agents looking to connect this growing population to opportunities in the British Virgin Islands should design responsive websites that put answers about cost, procedures and accreditation among other concerns at the fingertips of potential patients.

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